Article by Angela Stelmakowich, Growth Op
Sometimes, an itch is just an itch, calmed with a quick scratch. But if the itch is chronic, relentless and capable of lowering quality of life, something more is needed. Johns Hopkins investigators think that something could be cannabis.
Researchers cite a case study involving an African American woman in her 60s who had a 10-year history of chronic itch, known clinically as chronic pruritus, according to a statement this week from Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Presenting at the Johns Hopkins Itch Center with complaints of extreme pruritus on her arms, legs and stomach, the woman was examined and doctors found numerous hyperpigmented, raised skin lesions.
“Currently, to our knowledge, there is a lack of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved therapies for pruritus, so treatment can be difficult and relies on off-label therapeutics,” notes an abstract of study results, which were published last month in JAMA Dermatology.
Despite trying several treatments — including systemic therapies, centrally acting nasal sprays, steroid creams and phototherapy — none of them provided her relief.
Noting how difficult it is to treat chronic itch and given “our knowledge of the role of the endocannabinoid system in chronic itch,” Dr. Shawn Kwatra reports that doctors felt they had few options left and opted to give cannabis a try.
Dr. Kwatra, assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says that the woman experienced near instantaneous improvement after smoking or ingesting a liquid form of medical marijuana.
Using a zero to 10 scale, the woman herself reported the itch was a 10 when she came in and had dropped to a 4 “within 10 minutes after initial administration of the medical marijuana,” Dr. Kwatra reports. “With continued use of the cannabis, the patient’s itch disappeared altogether,” he says.
The thought is that THC attaches itself to brain receptors that influence the nervous system, Dr. Kwatra explains. “When this occurs, inflammation and nervous system activity decrease, which also could lead to a reduction in skin sensations such as itchiness,” he notes.